Thinking about death, the legacy we leave behind, and David Bowie’s Blackstar

I had the occasion to spend some time this afternoon with a friend who, in spite of serious ongoing health issues, is launching a new social venture intended to bring resources to third-world farmers. When discussing his decision to launch something incredibly ambitious at this point in his life, when his heart is only functioning at something like 20-percent, he referenced the video for the song Lazarus, off of David Bowie’s last record Blackstar. He said he felt like Bowie in the video, who we see writing as if possessed, trying to get as much work as possible done before the end of his life.

In the wake of Bowie’s passing, we all talked about these last songs of his, which were clearly about his impending death, but this was the first time I’d had an opportunity to discuss them with someone who, in his own words, faces the prospect of death daily, and it was really an incredibly thought provoking conversation. It was so thought provoking, in fact, that I was still thinking about death, and the lasting legacy we all leave behind, this evening when I went out walking the dog and stumbled across the following. I don’t know if it’s a reference to the Bowie album, as there’s additional “r” at the end, but, from now on, every time I see it, I’ll be reminded of Bowie, this friend of mine, and the conversation we had about the fleeting nature of life, and the things we’d still like to accomplish in this world.

IMG_5074

[note: There is apparently a fascist metahuman in the DC comic universe by the name of Blackstarr, so I suppose this could be an homage to her. Hopefully that’s not the case, though. We need less fascism and more Bowie.]

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17 Comments

  1. anonymous
    Posted May 16, 2016 at 5:56 am | Permalink

    We don’t talk about death enough in this culture.

  2. Kat
    Posted May 16, 2016 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    Rachel Berkowitz of Chicago was Blackstarr, enemy of Super Girl, member of the Suicide Squad.

  3. Meta
    Posted May 16, 2016 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    For others who might be interested, here is the history of Blackstarr.

    Blackstarr is a woman of great intelligence and foreboding presence, with a talents for words. More importantly, she is a scientific genius who unlocked the Holy Grail of modern physics – the unified field theory.

    The untold leap forward in physics theory somehow gave her unprecedented power over the very nature of the universe. She can manipulate gravity, travel via spatial warps, bombard targets with various fundamental particles and electromagnetic energies, create tiny black holes, etc. However, even such awesome power cannot hurt a Kryptonian unless she tries extra hard, or is in deep space.

    Among her most powerful abilities are warping her opponents away (to another dimension if need be), and a seldom-used trick where she positions four micro-black holes around her target, trapping it in an inescapable gravity prison. Her ability to reintegrate her body using gravitational force is basically beyond all physical limits – she could reintegrate after having been torn apart by no less than two micro-black- holes. Take that, Hawking !

    She also seems able to manipulate her own body (or at least her own face) to assume any appearance she wishes.

    History

    Rachael Berkowitz was born to a Warsaw tailor and his wife. She was about ten when the Germans rolled in – although even back then she was impressing her teachers with her intelligence. Her parents and her fled on foot, stealing as they needed to survive – but German forces eventually caught up with them, shooting her hapless father dead. Ida and Rachael were taken to a camp and separated. While, miraculously, both survived the war and camps, they each assumed the other had been killed in the camps and went on with their life.

    Ida Berkowitz was freed by the Russians, and eventually came to emigrate to the US, wanting to leave her terrible memories of Europe behind. The fate of her daughter, however, was quite unusual.

    Unlike the other children she was thrown with, Rachael spoke fluent German, and overheard from the guards that they would all be killed. She started pleading in German that there had been an error regarding her, and although her feeble lies convinced no one, she was kept for amusement. Her charm and poise were such, however, that she became the sidekick of the camp’s commandant, and soon pretty much a part of his family.

    She found comfort and refinement with her new family, and soon grew to hate her mother for having abandoned her, while her new father gave her so much. She soon became a dutiful little Nazi herself, hating the Jews as their “weakness” had been demonstrated by how her own mother had “abandoned” her.

    When the Reich fell, the commandant had false American papers prepared for all of his family through ODESSA – but Rachel was the only one not to be caught by the Soviets. Using her papers and the very fluent English she learned in the commandant’s house, she emigrated to the US. Getting her first PhD four years later at 18, she soon proved to be a genius at physics. Eventually she would, alone, formulate a theory unifying normal scale and quantum scale physics and drawing equations making all four fundamental forces as one. This extraordinary breakthrough gave her such knowledge about fundamental forces that she was able to become Blackstarr.

    Wanting to reshape the world as she had reshaped herself, Blackstarr created a small National-Socialist party, the Party for Social Reform. She inspired waves of antisemite violence in Chicago, and through her considerable charisma got her party off the ground, holding serious rallies. One of the Jews targeted by youths with spray paints was her own mother, who one morning, to her shock, found a swastika painted on her door. The violence peaked with a criminal fire at a local shul, with Supergirl narrowly saving the rabbi’s life as the very old man had run back into the flames to save his copy of the Torah.

    At one of the PSR’s rallies, a riot broke out – agitators claiming to be Jews, under the pay of Blackstaar’s lieutenant, having served as agents provocateurs. When Supergirl intervened, she got into a brief fight with Blackstarr, whose superhuman powers were revealed on national television. This was part of her plans, as she expected that demonstrating she was powerful enough to hold off Supergirl would bring in votes. Exposing her face on TV, however, resulted in her mother recognizing her and confronting her some time later.

    Supergirl then intervened again, and the angry Blackstaar took her to, allegedly, the center of the universe to do battle. Realizing she could not defeat her in a frontal assault, Supergirl tricked Blackstarr into exerting too much gravitational force – which created twin black holes that sucked her in, seemingly forever.

    However, Blackstarr reappeared during the Crisis, as the epic event was causing all sorts of cosmic problems and the universe itself was shrinking. Supergirl and Superman were investigating in space looking for a cause and saw two suspicious black holes, behaving impossibly and emitting energy far beyond the normal amount of Hawking radiation.

    As they arrived, Blackstarr popped out, having managed to reintegrate her atoms since her previous defeat. Supergirl and Superman, believing Blackstarr to be behind the trouble, attacked her. Superman in particular was particularly tense, and proved uncharacteristically aggressive – to the point Supergirl actually had to rein him in.

    After the fray died down, both Kryptonians teamed up with Blackstarr to stop the collapse of the universe – as Blackstarr considered the universe was hers to conquer and was not going away before she could achieve that. Supergirl and Superman contributed their superspeed momentum to help, but Blackstarr’s gravitational powers were the key as she Repulsed the boundaries of the collapsing universe, causing it to begin expanding again. Blackstarr vanished at the moment of her greatest release of energy, which fouled her plan to switch back to hammering Supergirl as soon as the universe was saved.

    The Blackstarr that was seen after the Crisis appeared under weird circumstances, and was a young black woman. While Blackstarr can change her appearance (so it could be her), this seems to be quite out of character for her, and her whole behaviour did not match what was observed pre-Crisis. It is *possible* that this is the same person, but it might be safest to assume a different post-Crisis version. We have a bit of the same problem with Reactron in this story (see Reactron’s entry), though less severe.

    This version was in prison when she was assigned as a member of one of Task Force Omega’s “Suicide Squads”, along with Deadshot, Major Disaster, Killer Frost, and Reactron. They were sent to investigate the island of Kooeykooeykooey, where a city full of powerful metahumans had suddenly appeared.

    After the situation went tactical, Blackstarr teleported the dying Reactron to another dimension before his death resulted in an atomic explosion, then joined the metahumans, pretty much taking over them. Her intention is that next time they return, they’ll purge the world of all non-ethnically pure individuals, and then move on to other worlds to do the same to them.

    Description

    Her face is the one she designed, and she pretty much left her plain, middle-aged features behind her – Blackstarr appears to be about 25 while she’s actually (when the story was published) in her mid-fifties.

    Personality

    Blackstarr is a hateful, cunning manipulator with tons of dirty tricks up her sleeves – both political and tactical. She seems to strongly see herself as some sort of grandiose, melodramatic evil empress who is not to be trifled with – under any circumstances. Her men fear and respect her, and few people can stand up to her.

    Blackstarr’s hatred is almost entirely based on a child not understanding why her all-powerful mother didn’t save her, and feeling deeply betrayed. Although she was raised a prize Nazi, she mostly focuses on antisemitic hatred.

    Quotes

    “That… you shall never know, foolish child! All you will ever learn is my name — for I am Blackstarr… and I am the power of the cosmos!”

    “We are not free, my faithful! Tyranny holds this great land in its power! Look not to the government for answers and resolutions… they too are enslaved! Look neither to institutions of faith… they have been deceived! Who then is our enemy? I needn’t tell you that! You do not need to hear the words from my lips to know the truth! All of us here recognize our oppressors as they have been recognized since the days of the pharaohs… all of us know we are under their heavy hand! An international conspiracy!”

    “You… filth! Long ago I swore no one would ever touch me in violence again!”

    “Fool ! Nobody comes upon Blackstarr without her knowledge!”

    Read more:
    http://www.writeups.org/blackstarr-supergirl-dc-comics/

  4. kjc
    Posted May 16, 2016 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    Mos Def and Talib Kweli…

  5. Loop
    Posted May 16, 2016 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    That’s “Black Star”, KJC. Two words. One R.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mos_Def_%26_Talib_Kweli_Are_Black_Star

  6. Eel
    Posted May 16, 2016 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    My favorite part of the Lazarus video is that Bowie wears the same outfit he did on the cover of “Station to Station”.

  7. Thom Elliott
    Posted May 16, 2016 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    Bowie’s best material in two decades and then he dies. Death of course is the greatest impetus, the event which makes us truly who we are. Death gives us the completion which forever eludes our intrinsically fragmentary existences. How one negotiates one’s death is of the greatest importance to how one lives. Are you cowering in terror in front of the ever present danger of the void? Do you worship the emptiness which is itself empty? Do you welcome the respite of the void? Do you live in denial, forever deferring the thought until it inevitably crowds into your awareness? Death both grants and commands us to make meaning, to uncover significance in this incomprehensible world before you blink out of it. If technology is ever successful at erasing death out of the transhuman bourgeoisie, the human race will enter a phase of consummate meaninglessness the likes of which have never been seen before. Hail Death, long may you reign!

  8. Bowie Quote Finder
    Posted May 16, 2016 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    “I’m closer to the Golden Dawn
    Immersed in Crowley’s uniform
    I’m not a prophet or a stoneage man
    Just a mortal with potential of a superman”
    – Quicksand

  9. James
    Posted May 16, 2016 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Those symbols aren’t ones I recognize from the Bowie album.

  10. Anonymatt
    Posted May 16, 2016 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    This is part of a rebranding effort on behalf of Kurt Vonnegut’s asshole.

  11. Peter Larson
    Posted May 16, 2016 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Some interesting reactions to this important post by a well known author.

  12. Mr. X
    Posted May 16, 2016 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    Kurt Vonnegut’s asshole:

    https://www.scienceleadership.org/blog/the_use_of_illustration_in_kurt_vonnegut-s-breakfast_of_champions

  13. kjc
    Posted May 16, 2016 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    “That’s “Black Star”, KJC. Two words. One R.”

    yes. i thought we were speculating on typo.

  14. Posted May 16, 2016 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    There’s still lots I would like to accomplish, but at least some (much? most?) just won’t be possible. So much of what we accomplish depends on the right timing, luck, etc. I grew up thinking anything was possible, but eventually had to admit that it really isn’t. Will I get a huge, six figure book deal? No. Will I be able to bring the races and genders together in harmony? No. (Seriously, I used to think I would write the One Book that would do that. I know, I know–pitiful). It is really depressing, and trying to find meaning in it all is exhausting.

  15. Peter Larson
    Posted May 17, 2016 at 12:35 am | Permalink

    The only thing I want to accomplish is the release of “Six Pack Songs Vol. 2.”

  16. Lita
    Posted May 17, 2016 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    I am dying of cancer. I watched Bowie’s last video a couple times. The first time made me uncomfortable as he skillfully recreates the bandages, shots, pokes, and pain of active treatment that I am so familiar with. The second time, I was struck that he came out of the same coffin/wardrobe that he retreats into upon death. It is comforting for me to think that when I die, I will be going back to the same place I was before being born. I have no memory of this being a bad place, so maybe it will be ok.

  17. Mr. X
    Posted May 17, 2016 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Lita, I’m so very sorry to hear about your cancer. I hope the time you have remaining here is happy, pain-free and rewarding.

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us here.

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